Subject: brahmin priest
Culture: Bengali, Nepali
Setting: Sakta Hinduism, Bengal-Nepal 18-20thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Rawson 1968 p54-55
"There is one type of sword from Northern India the distribution of which is not confined to any of the political divisions of the territory. This sword is generally called the Ram Dao. It is not a fighting weapon; swords of this class are used to decapitate the animals offered in sacrifice to the Bhairavi (terrible) forms of the goddess at her temples. They often bear inscriptions in Bengali characters such as 'Jay Kali' -- 'Victory to Kali'. The different shapes of Ram Dao do not seem to be regarded as in any way distinct in function, and will be found in use at the same shrine side by side.
"The distribution of the type seems to lie on the northern side of the Ganges basin, extending from Bengal (the temple Kalighat in Calcutta) to Assam, Nepal, and Mirat. It is interesting that in this as in other respects, Nepal seems to be indebted to Bengal, for the Nepalese Ram Daos are always inscribed in Bengali, not in Newari. The two forms they follow are clearly derived from two types found represented at Barabadur, which are of Deccani origin. Similar forms may, however, have been used in Eastern India.
"Sacrificial swords are commonly the gift of pious donors who often record their piety in inscriptions on the blades. The Ram Dao is regarded as the physical manifestation of the severing power of the goddess, and the temple images of her terrible forms usually carry in their upper right hand such a sacrificial sword, as does the little figure of Kali in the relief panel belonging to J. C. French on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum. In the older images the weapon she carries is the common fighting sword -- the kharga as it is called in Bengal; but the modern images hold copies, often in some precious metal, gold, silver or copper, of the sacrificial sword and these copies, again, are frequently gifts of the pious."
* Elgood 2004 p259
"Ram Dao (Nepal and Bengal) Sacrificial sword of various forms. ... The Ā'īn-i-Akbarī manuscript of 1621 shows amongst the page of weapons a basket-hilted sword with a blade of this distinctive form, complete with eye in the same position as the later blades. Watson writing on Bengal at the end of the nineteenth century describes 'large knives for sacrificial purposes -- kanra, dao -- are made in several places in south-east Bengal. The knives are kept in Hindu temples and are used for striking off the heads of sacrificial goats. There are two types of such knives. The one is very similar to the ordinary bill hook and is about 2 feet long. The other type ... is identical in design with sacrificial knives manufactured in Assam or East Bengal.' In the eastern regions where the better-made examples are found, Tippera and Sylhet are famous for manufacturing these swords, but within Bengal the best examples are made at Nadia and Dubrajpur."
* Stone 1934 p523
"RAM DA'O. A kind of sacrificial sword, Nepal. It has a very broad, heavy blade much incurved at the end, with an eye carved or inlaid on each side. The handle is straight and usually mounted with brass. In making the sacrifice the head of the animal should be cut off with a single blow and these weapons are admirably adapted for the purpose, the greater part of the weight being close to the end." [references omitted]
* Paul 1995 p64
"The ram dao ... is not a combat weapon but one used for sacrificial purposes. It was in use in Bengal, Assam and Nepal. It has a broad, heavy, forward curved blade about 2 feet in length. The handle is straight and long so that the sacrificial sword can be held in both hands for a downward stroke."
* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/Larocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson p194 (Frederick Wilkinson, "India and Southeast Asia" p186-203)
"Another weapon with an extremely large blade was the ram dao, a sacrificial rather than a fighting weapon, found mostly in the north of India where the worship of Kali Mai [sic], the 'Dark Mother' and wife of Shiva, was strong. The blade is somewhat similar to that of the kora, although on some the curve is almost hook-like, but the hilt is an extension of the back edge. Almost all ram dao have an engraved eye somewhere near the tip of the blade. These weapons were used to behead the animals offered in sacrifice to the dread goddess, and many are very decorative since they were presented by devout believers anxious to please her."
* Kripal 1998 p49-50
"As an instrument of Kālī's left side, Kālī's sword is above all an instrument of the dark forces in human experience, foremost among them, death. In battle her sword slays the demons and 'cuts down evil.' But even off the battlefield, no one is safe from her sword, not even the reader or listener, for Kālī's sword swings out of the text or song and threatens to end the life of any who dares read or listen: 'She is my Ma, Kālī' with a garland of heads. Today she'll cut off yours!' Often, however, the sword is not so much feared as it is invoked. Hence the poet prays that the sword that decapitates the sacrificial goat now be turned on himself: 'My worship is over,' Ramprasad sings. 'Now, O Ma, bring down your sword.'
"Sometimes this symbolic act of self-decapitation is performed by Kālī's name, which is often associated with her sword and connected to the removal of 'sin' (pāpa): 'Where is sin with Kālī's name? Without a head one can't have a headache.' But more often this ritual violence is connected to a specifically mystical form of knowledge or experience. 'That which is right [dharma] and that which is wrong [adharma] are the two goats,' the poet sings. Both must be bound to the sacrificial stake adn beheaded with the 'sword of gnosis.' As the sword of gnosis, Kālī's sword cuts the bonds of māyā embedded in the 'good' and 'bad' of society and so releases the devotee from the dualities of ignorance. As such, Kālī's sword is an instrument of the goddess's grace, ushering in through its violence a reality untainted by the distinctions and divisions of language and society. As the goat head falls to the ground, so too does the mystic's, and with it the polarities of human thought."